My four year old's current favorite song is Lost Boys by Ruth B. She's obsessed. If she has her way we could listen to it on repeat for a full hour. (Eventually I cut her off after 4 repetitions, which is still more than anyone should ever listen to a song).
So, needless to say, these lyrics have been running through my head on repeat these last few weeks. I admit, I love the song too (although not after I've heard it four times in a row). People usually think of Peter Pan as a story about a boy who doesn't want to grow up, and he's often used as a reference for a longing for a prolonged childhood. Yet the more I listen to the song, I realize it draws us into the another side of the Peter Pan story- the sense of belonging Peter Pan offers these lost children.
If you interpret the lyrics in an unsettling way, you realize the Peter Pan story creepier than before. It tells the story of an unhappy, depressed child "in a town that never loved" him. The lyrics go...
"Then one night, as I closed my eyes,
I saw a shadow flying high
He came to me with the sweetest smile
Told me he wanted to talk for awhile
He said, "Peter Pan. That's what they call me.
I promise that you'll never be lonely."
And ever since that day..."
Remove the image of Peter Pan and insert anything else we worry about influencing our teenagers - ISIS recruiters, drug dealers, even strange religious cults. Maybe the ISIS online recruitment has been on my mind after listening to this podcast, but some days that's all I can hear when I listen to the song.
Peter Pan represents a promise. A promise of a place to belong, a family one never had, a safe space to be ones self. That promise is something we are all seeking, what most of us want out of life.
Our students want this too, and as they get older they can find it in different places. Will they find it in school, in an after school club, on a sports team, or through a mentor? Or will they find it elsewhere? What Peter Pan forces are out there for them?
There is one little boy I've found myself thinking about a lot this summer. He's incredibly bright, creative, and inquisitive. In just one conversation with him you can quickly realize he has the power to go far in life with his people skills and his intelligence. But he also has ADHD, which makes school difficult for him. How long before he decides everyone hates him? He can be successful at whatever he chooses in life, and we can only hope he'll choose to use his powers for good and not evil. I worry about high school with its drug dealers and gangs and the pull they could have on him. How long before he finds a place to belong with older boys who realize what a good salesman he is?
We can prevent that, I know we can. It's not easy. It's far quicker to get angry with his impulsivity, banish him from the classroom, or punish him by taking away recess or sending him to the principal's office. It's easy to think he can't learn, or won't learn, and that he's too much of a distraction to other students. But it's all of those actions that tell him he doesn't belong here with us.
We have to take a step back and teach him how to learn. We have to help him manage his impulsivity, teach him how to regulate himself. We have to put structures in place for him to learn without making him feel like it is him vs us. Because there are Peter Pans out there who will lead him away, with nothing more than a promise of a place to belong.
How can we set up places for these students so that they find belonging in school and not on the streets? How can we be the pull on these lost boys/students so that they can stand strong against negative Peter Pan influences?